Saturday, March 31, 2012

When Passion Red is unfurled

This weekend, we'll be doing something that is deep in our ritual sensibilities at the University of Notre Dame – we'll unfurl our blazing red banners, stand in front of Bond Hall for the reading of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, palms lifted high, and then march over to the Basilica, voices wafting through that quad with refrains to "All Glory, Laud and Honor" and "To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King," all introduced by the oldest carillon in the country, high up in the steeple of that great church.

It begins a week of very old things.

As I've looked back over our liturgy programs of the past generation, it's remarkable how very little our repertoire has changed when it comes to Holy Week. Sure, we trade up the anthems every year (this year we're singing Handel's stirring "Surely He Hath Borne Our Grief" for the preparation of the table). But our Opening Hymns are the same... we start with two great standards on the way to the Basilica (see above), and when everyone passes the entryway they're lambasted with "Sing Hosanna!" in true Yiddish style. We still use Chrysogonus' mournful setting of Psalm 22: "My God, My God." And, inevitably, we still find a place for that long and plaintive cello solo that serves as an entree into "Jesus the Lord," by my dear friend Roc O'Connor. And we still end Sunday's liturgy with "O Sacred Head," so carefully registered by my colleague Karen, who, by the third verse, has disappeared entirely, leaving only the fragile four-part assembly on its own.

It is a time for old things. Things repeated, repeated so we can continue to understand them, comprehend them, let them sink in. Repeated because the mysteries these days contain are, in some ways, so unfathomable that it takes a lifetime to try to wrap our small souls around them. It is a time of litanies, of ancient languages, of a single candle chasing away all shadows.

So let the Red be unfurled! Passion is about to commence!

Monday, March 26, 2012

The convergence of February and May

After Chicago and AirWaves studio, we moved from the intensity of a recording session to the open fields of Indiana, heading down to Fort Wayne for a great reunion of Folk Choir alumni.

It's not often that I would write simply about weather and landscape, but the atmosphere of the past few weeks has been nothing short of remarkable – we seem to have moved almost immediately from February to May – and with this fast paced advent of Spring, there has been a coalition of creative colors! Forsythia, magnolia, red bud trees, willows, and pears have all been rushing to outperform one another, forming a palette of hues seldom seen at the same time:

These scenes, from country roads in the Fort Wayne area, were a sight for tired eyes this weekend. Especially as we're heading into the high Holy Days, when we will be of a singular, dedicated vision and far removed from the colorful fields of Indiana. But the splendor of their creativity, and the hope that they convey by way of life Reborn – these are not lost on the soul!

To those who live in song, to those who live in the hope of the Resurrection, winter never has the last word. Spring is always triumphant. And as we prepare for Easter, more and more intensely with the passing of each day, there is no greater hope that this – that rebirth will always win out.

Holy Week, here we come!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Final Tracks: Mass for Our Lady

The last 48 hours were quite a blur, with one very important set of milestones: Michele and I headed to Chicago yesterday for about five important hours in AirWaves Recording Studio, home of the wonderfully talented John McCortney. After months and months of writing and editing and proofreading, the final tracks for Mass for Our Lady were laid down on guitar yesterday.

Our publisher, World Library Publications, has done a really remarkable thing with this mass setting. They've recorded it two ways: the first (side A, if you will), in a "cathedral" style, with organ, brass, handbells and four-part choir. The second style was more "parochial," and this was recorded with piano, strings, flute, choir and guitar. The fact that this new mass setting can move in both directions, using the instruments in various combinations, is, in my mind, a real testament to what we hope will lead to both integrity and longevity.

I'm here in John's studio laying down the tracks. Over the past week, the WLP singers and ensembles were conducted by one of Chicago's great church musicians, Paul French, Director of Music at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church and the Director of the William Ferris Chorale. Paul and crew laid down all the vocal and instrumental tracks, sans the acoustic guitar. It was my job to listen carefully to all these performances and match the guitar to Paul's great conducting.

What a great thing to play this score, following along with the masterful interpretation by Paul! It was so easy to anticipate his every nuance.

Now, after two and a half years, we are on the last lap of production. This week, the final, full score of Mass for Our Lady came back from the printers, and is in distribution to the parishes who'd placed advanced orders. And it's just in time for Easter!

You'll also see, in the above pictures, my new pride and joy: a custom-designed and built Martin Grand Performance acoustic/electric guitar, which arrived just weeks ago (I'd ordered it in early September). The timing couldn't have been more perfect, arriving just before this recording session. The Martin Company did a beautiful job of creating an instrument for me that will complement the great work of the Notre Dame Folk Choir's rich set of voices.

Very little is left to do by way of this enormous project. My superb collaborator and friend, Karen Kirner, and I are looking at a complementary collection of Gospel Acclamation verses – ones for the entire set of Lectionary readings – to be a companion to this mass setting. But other than that, we can now look back on an amazing amount of work. And maybe, like our Creator after the end of a long period of work, we can look back and call it good.

Friday, March 16, 2012

To Live in Admiration

This will be my last blog from Ireland for a couple of months — the Folk Choir will be returning here after Commencement Weekend on May 21st for two full weeks of touring, but for now, it's time to say "slán" to our Brigid community and let them get back to their labors. Liturgies and many labors await back at Our Lady's University.

I've spent a very engaging and awe-inspiring week in Wexford. My friends in the House of Brigid, shown below, have been exceptional hosts.

They, however, would probably scratch their heads when I say they have been the cause of much admiration these past few days. Perhaps they'd not really see that much to admire — they've been running choir rehearsals, putting together kits for Confirmation classes, running laptop projection units, going to Mass, repeating the whole process, day after day.

But it is precisely this kind of dedication, the attention to matters both big and small, inane and grandiose, that makes them, in my mind, so worthy of admiration. A lot of what we do as ministers is tied up in detail-driven, seemingly irrelevant minutiae. It is the rare assignment that brings with it a "mountaintop experience." But watching these four over the past week, their daily discipline and passion for the day that awaits them — this example has fed my own sense of spiritual joy and commitment.

Four adults, fresh from college. A little town on the eastern shore of Ireland. And yet, here is something new — do you not perceive it? Four of our graduates are giving young people permission to be spiritually engaged once again. They are allowing them the unusual freedom to be joyful in the midst of a secular tidal wave.

Last week, Jessica, their house director, shared a dream with me. "I've been hoping that some of the pilgrims that went on World Youth Day might be interested in helping us with Confirmation retreats...that we could actually teach them how to lead."

And this week, the Teach Bhride community actually trained their first two teachers for Confirmation — from the ranks of those whom they led on pilgrimage to Madrid. They are teaching others to be evangelists.

Something new is happening here. Something worthy of our admiration. Do you not perceive it?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Quay

One of the things that makes Wexford ("Loch Garman," in Irish) unique is its seaside landscape: it's situated alongside a tidal estuary, the River Slaney, and running alongside this, by the town, is the quay. (Don't prove you're an American by mispronouncing this word; it's pronounced "key.")

I've been spending a lot of time walking this quay the past few days, for one of the things about being in Wexford is the time it affords, one-on-one, with the members of the House of Brigid. It's a good place to share with colleagues in ministry - to compare notes, to look back on accomplishments and challenges of the past, and look forward to future endeavors as well.

There's a lot for this community to look back upon: the creation of a Confirmation sacramental team, led in part by Irish peers who were pilgrims on World Youth Day to Madrid; the constant liturgical planning of parochial projects; the creative endeavors around the celebration of St. Brigid's Day.

And there's a lot to look forward to as well: the International Eucharistic Congress being held in Dublin in a few months, and the visit of 55+ members of a certain Folk Choir from the University of Notre Dame, just ten weeks from now.

For now, we're spending time walking the Quay. We talk about all these ventures and plan, and sort, and exhort and encourage. Seeds are being sown. We probably won't see the final harvest. But walking and talking in anticipation of this harvest is enough to bring joy to the heart.

Monday, March 12, 2012

In the Shadow of Naomh Bhride

Naomh Bhríde, that is, Holy Brigid, is the patroness of all we are about in Wexford, and it is to her, the "Mary of the Gaels," that we pray in intercession as we walk this journey of collaboration with the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard Parish, in Wexford Town.

Wexford is a town that, in many ways, is typical of much that is taking place in Ireland at present: extraordinarily high unemployment,(about 14%), a lot of lost family businesses, a Church that is beleaguered by scandal and neglect, low morale and few vocations.

But a good and wise friend of mine, Jerry Galipeau, once said something succinct that has become a clarion call for much of our work: "People gotta sing, and people gotta pray!"

And in many ways, truer words were never spoken for our fellow Christians in Ireland. They still have a deep devotion to the Eucharist (Michele and I were at a daily mass this morning at 10AM; hundreds were there). They still mourn their dead and rejoice when young ones are brought into the faith. They still bring their needs to God, daily.

And they are learning to sing: at the Vigil Mass last Saturday, I was astounded to hear the assembly singing the Where Charity and Love Mass setting – only the third time they've done it – and singing it better than most of our American vigil mass congregations.

There is much good work going on here, and more to write later this week!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Flying with the shamrock

It's always a great thing to fly on an aircraft that has a saint emblazoned on the front of its hull! Most Aer Lingus aircraft are named for traditional Irish saints: Kevin, Patrick, Columcille, Brigid...

Today I head over to Ireland for what will be a very, very busy week. First comes a visit with the marvelous volunteers at the House of Brigid: Jessica Mannen, Molly Mattingly, Dan Masterton and Kurt Nowak. They're deep into sacramental preparation, musical rehearsals for Holy Week, and labors with the children at Kennedy Park and Scoil Mhuire.

These annual visits are a wonderful way to renew our collaboration with the pastoral staff of Clonard, in County Wexford. We'll be looking at the progress of the past year, talking with Monsignor Denis Lennon and his staff, and enjoying the camaraderie of our Wexford friends that we've made over the past years.

Teach Bhríde, the House of Brigid, is now heading into its fourth year of service to the people of Ireland, and specifically to the Diocese of Ferns (Wexford) and Clonard Parish. Hard to believe that what began as a dream with the Class of 2008 and a very earnest group of grads has now emerged as a vibrant community of witness to groups far beyond the parochial community.

But then again, it is named after a very special saint and advocate!

Here's a picture of the beloved tapestry of Saint Brigid that adorns the day Eucharist chapel in Clonard:
I'll be writing from Ireland for my next post.

A blessed spring break to all of you who are following my travels!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Lent At Notre Dame: It's busy in the desert!

Greetings to all of you who are keeping up with my postings!

I remember, years ago while on tour with the Folk Choir, heading to an amazing place called the Sonora Desert Museum. As a displaced New Englander now living in the heartland, I had always thought of the desert as just a place with a lot of rocks and sand. But after spending time at the museum, my eyes were opened to a whole other way of seeing the desert – it was alive with activity! Strange and marvelous creatures, amazing ways of adaptation to a severe landscape, and ingenious patterns of camouflage that defied normal eyesight. I had thought the desert was a lifeless place. But to the trained eye, it is indeed teeming with activity.

And here we are, in our Lenten desert journey at Notre Dame, on the portal of spring break. And while winter continues to keep us in her grip, and our students are deeply immersed in mid-term exams and papers, there is a flurry of activity going on – both in the dorms, and in Campus Ministry. Kind of like all that activity that goes on in the desert.

Sacramental preparation is in full swing – we sent our Catechumens off to the Cathedral yesterday afternoon, where they gained a new appellation: they are now the Elect.

We are honing in on Holy Week, which means that Campus-Wide Stations of the Cross planning is on the front burner. Our student liturgical commissioners have been crafting their stational meditations, so that when they leave for spring break in a few days, we'll have a script ready for this annual event.

In the Folk Choir, our repertoire rehearsals are now fully devoted to Holy Week, Easter, and Ordinations. Repertoire for Lent is solidly in the back pocket, ready to go. Even though we don't sing them in public, "Alleluias" are now wafting through our sectionals.

This weekend, the Liturgical Choir heads off to Rome for the week, and the Handbell and Celebration Choirs join forces, making pilgrimage to St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal.

And finally, there is my own journey: my wife and I will travel to Wexford and Dublin over spring break, visiting with the community and parish at the House of Brigid, and beginning to discuss the Folk Choir's tour in May and June to the Emerald Isle. And then there's this little party that is now appearing on the horizon: the Notre Dame/Navy game in September, at which the Folk Choir will have a contributing role.

Even in the starkness of our Lenten wanderings, we are preparing table upon table for feasting. Activity is everywhere, for those who have eyes to see.